Friday, October 08, 2004

Love life

Charlotte Wyatt is to be allowed to die. Her life will now be short but she will be loved. It is an amazing expression of love that her parents can accept that there will not be the miracle they wanted for their own sakes and that they must lose their child.

That life is valuable and precious is not something that needs explaining to any one of us. Ordinarily, we will protect one another's lives, and insist on their value, above most other things. But there must be limits.

Surely what we protect is not being alive in the abstract -- being living, in other words -- but being alive in a much broader sense. Charlotte is an easy example. To extend her life, so that she does more living, will involve painful treatment. The quality of her life would be very poor. Her body would be physically animate but is that "life"?

I know the fundamentalists believe it is, that anything human that is burning fuel in oxygen is living and must be kept that way. What a lack of compassion their mechanist view of life has! These people who call themselves "spiritual" because they believe in something supernatural.

For me it is so much harder to define but so much richer. Life is distinct and real. You know it when you see it and you know when it is lacking. A man on a machine is living but he is not alive. I refuse to believe that any god who has sympathy for us believes that he is.

I know that my beliefs mean making judgements, which are extremely difficult and require us to be moral (not an easy thing in itself when health care is expensive and the pie is only so big). I do think it is reasonable to fear that if we insist life must have quality there will be those who insist their aged parents, loaded but mostly immobile, have none of it and must die. I know that it is easier to decide the fate of the severely handicapped if we simply keep them alive -- so that they have cellular function even if they will never get up, go out and feel the breeze -- as near forever as we can (and yes, I know that there can be quality in lives like that -- I am not saying there must be a measurable thing, quite the opposite).

If my own child were broken, and ought to die, how would I feel? I do not know. I hope that I would realise that what I love about Zenella, for instance, is not just her physical self, her being alive, but her being in that same broader sense, but I loved her when her life was very small, probably if I am honest before she even lived, and I do not know why. I have always thought love was a little beyond reason and makes us unreasonable but, too, beautiful, things of beauty whose lives are worth extending where we can.


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